National Security Desk / Nov. 27, 2018

The Ongoing Saudi Kerfuffle

"Presidents don't often get the freedom to work with unblemished partners."

Nearly two months after the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the American Leftmedia — led largely by the WaPo — is still up in arms over not just the murder but the way President Donald Trump has responded.

First, we’ll restate a couple of things we noted the only other time we’ve commented on the subject. Murder is what authoritarian regimes do, be they Islamic or otherwise. A free press is anathema to totalitarians. But with Khashoggi, there may be more than meets the eye. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s. He wasn’t an advocate of Western-style democracy, instead favoring an Arab Spring-style political Islamic regime. That isn’t to minimize his death; it’s to see clearly who he was, which the WaPo in its lionization refuses to do.

Second, the Leftmedia coverage is driven by the fact that Khashoggi was a journalist (or, more accurately, a propagandist), not by true care for or understanding of sometimes messy foreign alliances such as the one the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia.

Third, we also drew this back to the actual scandal of the 2012 Benghazi attack. The Leftmedia would like to make this “Trump’s Benghazi.”

Now, to recent developments. The CIA last week concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman not only knew about the murder but ordered it, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims. Trump then contradicted the CIA, expressing doubt about its conclusion. Of Salman’s order or knowledge, Trump said as only he could, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump’s generally crass letter regarding the murder and the CIA’s conclusion largely reduced the relationship with Saudi Arabia to arms sales, oil, and Iran, but without the right emphasis or caveats. As The Wall Street Journal observed, “We are aware of no President, not even such ruthless pragmatists as Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson, who would have written a public statement like this without so much as a grace note about America’s abiding values and principles. Ronald Reagan especially pursued a hard-line, often controversial, foreign policy against Soviet Communism, but he did so with a balance of unblinkered realism and American idealism. Mr. Trump seems incapable of such balance.”

But Trump wasn’t entirely wrong, either. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis correctly noted, “There has to be accountability for anyone involved in the murder. Yes, I’m calling it murder. We’re not going to apologize for our human-rights stance. Nor are we going to apologize for working with Saudi Arabia when it’s necessary for the good of innocent people who are in trouble. Presidents don’t often get the freedom to work with unblemished partners.”

Finally, the CIA — hardly an unblemished partner, by the way — does not set foreign policy; the president does. And as he concluded his letter, Trump said, “Very simply it is called America First!”

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